Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Rare Glimpse at Vanished Civilization at the Contemporary Jewish Museum San Francisco

By Emma Krasov. Images: courtesy CJM

Two new shows currently on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco depict the culturally flourishing Jewish life in Poland in 1919-1939, between the two great European wars. What used to be a center of concentrated creative energies directed toward literature, music, theatre, film, press, and social advancements was about to become ground zero for concentration camps, torture chambers, and death factories.    

A collection of the 1930s images produced by photographer Ze’ev (Wilhelm) Aleksandrowicz is at the base of the exhibition “Poland and Palestine: Two Lands and Two Skies.” Escaping the pre-WWII Europe, already saturated with the Nazi propaganda and violent anti-Semitism in the 1930s, those who could afford to move out headed for the British Mandate (Palestine) to start a new life. Years before the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the Polish Jews were leaving their well-established homes in Warsaw and Krakow to settle in the desert – build houses, dig canals, develop agriculture, endure, and survive.

The second exhibition, “Letters to Afar” is a large-scale audiovisual art installation created by internationally acclaimed Budapest-based filmmaker and video-artist Péter Forgács in collaboration with the New York City-based band The Klezmatics. It's a reworking of rare amateur movies made by Jewish immigrants who often returned to their homeland on brief visits from the United States. In this show, the focus is on the other class of Polish Jewry – the poor inhabitants of small towns and villages – who couldn’t escape the approaching annihilation by the Nazi regime, and almost completely vanished in the Holocaust. Smiling faces, children’s faces, bearded elders, dressed up women, young people engaged in sports, a country wedding, a market day – the grainy footage of amateur films puts human faces on the Holocaust statistics making a subdued yet profound statement about the life that once was and vanished forever. There’s nothing in the exhibition that would remind the public of the horrors that ensued, making this presentation ever more powerful.   

Both exhibitions are on view through May 24 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission Street (between Third & Fourth Streets), San Francisco. The Museum is open daily (except Wednesday) 11am–5pm and Thursday, 11am–8pm. Museum admission is $12 for adults, $10 for students and senior citizens with a valid ID, and $5 on Thursdays after 5pm. Youth 18 and under always get in free. For general information call 415.655.7800 or visit

John Colins in San Francisco: 10 Year Anniversary Party (Bitter Personal Notes)

by Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov
What sounded like an anniversary party turned out to be a crowded and loud stampede. Good for the establishment (is it?), not so good for the guests...

There were bouncers by the door, but no stopping of endless streams of passers by coming in. (The more the merrier, of course, but what about the fire code?)
I quote from the press release: "... Customized cocktail menu inspired by the refreshed, island-themed interior of the space..." I tried the "Hi-Tai" - with hibiscus syrup in a regular Mai Tai. See pictures above and below.

The interior, partially visible through the crowd is pictured below.

"... nightly sushi concept..." - nothing to report. The chef was too busy.
Oh yeah, "Manhattan Beach" consumed by my photographer: Mt. Gay Rum, Carpano Antica, Tiki bitters, and ginger topped with a dark cherry and orange zest. Pictured above.
Happy anniversary (I guess).  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Victory Burger is Two Years Old, and Victorious!

By Emma Krasov

Victory Burger in the Golden Gate neighborhood of North Oakland, California, is celebrating its two-year anniversary with a bang – and an unwavering commitment to excellence! Farm-to-table, fresh-from-the-market, and house-made-pickles-and-condiments are usually reserved for haute cuisine establishments with white table cloth and French-speaking servers with Master Degrees in fine arts.
However, this unassuming neighborhood joint with solid wood communal tables, playful murals, and rather small but efficient open kitchen, whips us the best burgers in town made with meats and veggies from reputable producers like Riverdog Farms, Full Belly Farm, Dirty Girl Produce, Smit Ranch, Kashiwase Orchards, Avalos Farm, Acme Bread Company, Five Dot Ranch, and others.

Victory’s “Burger of the Week” introduces new flavors from various cuisines based on farm-direct produce every week. Endless varieties haven’t been repeated once since the inception of the program.
“Last year, we started making a weekly visit to our farmers at the South Berkeley Ecology Center market,” says Sal Bednarz, the proprietor. “We select the best seasonal offerings and prepare them to best complement a burger, sometimes in unexpected ways. We get a lot out of having an ongoing dialogue with our farmers that we would miss if we were buying everything through distributors.”

This dialogue with the farmers proves beneficial for diners who can indulge in seasonal specialties like “Weekly Farm Salad” with spring flowers (Riverdog flowering Napa cabbage and arugula, sliced red radish, and cilantro flowers, with sweet lime-molasses dressing) or spring onion jam served with the Burger of the Week.
While carnivores delight in signature Victory Burger with Five Dot Ranch beef on Acme Kaiser Roll and Fried Chicken Sandwich with Mary’s Chicken, ginger/sweet pepper relish, and goat cheese mayo, vegetarians, vegans, and consumers of gluten-free foods are fully served here with Veggie Burger (whole beans, vegetables and grains with cilantro-lime mayo and housemade ketchup) and various corn flour arepas. The latter are served in abundance of varieties at the Actual Café, connected to Victory Burger and also owned and operated by Sal Bednarz. The gluten-free Caribbean Veggie Arepa contains housemade smoked marinated tofu, fried plantains and vegan avocado “mayo.”      

In both establishments all side dishes are gluten-free, made with rice flour whenever necessary. Batters and sauces are all gluten-free and most are vegan. While popular milkshakes are made with high-quality Straus ice cream, Coconut Bliss is used in vegan shakes.  
Victory Burger has recently added tableside service during dinner hours (starting at 5pm every night) and has submitted a permit application to serve beer and wine (the permit is expected in the spring).  
A statement from Victory Burger: “Victory Burger makes the best burger around at any price, starting with locally and responsibly sourced meats, artisan breads and farm direct organic produce. Our focused street food-style approach helps us keep our prices accessible. We can accommodate the casual eater - or burger purist - with our basic menu: burgers, fries, and shakes.  But we go further - for more information, visit”    
Victory Burger is located at 1099 Alcatraz Ave, and the next door Actual Café at 6334 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, California. Call 510-653-8322.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Timeless Art of Seduction at San Francisco Asian Art Museum

By Emma Krasov

Precious paintings with elaborate detailing, lacquered mirror stands with wisteria design, kimonos embroidered with cranes and plovers, pine and reeds – the floating world of ephemeral figures, meticulously constructed coiffures, snow-white faces with onyx eyes and ruby lips… The elements of life as art in art pieces depicting glamorous courtesans and glorified Kabuki theatre actors playing glamorous courtesans…   
Two new shows at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, “Seduction: Japan’s Floating World” and “The Printer’s Eye: Ukiyo-e from the Grabhorn Collection” explore the transformation of the Buddhist term ukiyo (suffering caused by desire preventing spiritual enlightenment) into “floating world” of hedonism and transgression in Japan’s Edo period (1615–1868).  

The red-light district of Edo (now Tokyo), the Yoshiwara – walled and moated, and accessible through the Main Gate (Omon) – contained teahouses, shops, and variously ranked brothels with thousands of women working as professional pleasure givers.  Prepubescent farmers’ daughters from impoverished families were typically brought to the quarter, trained, and bound to brothels on lengthy contracts first as servants and then as prostitutes – from cheap moat-side street-walkers to “powdered tea girls” in latticed showrooms, to expensive elite courtesans, trained in music, calligraphy, and poetry.
The artists’ renditions of poses, costume, hair, and the surrounding household items are focused on distinctions of the women’s rank and conduct, hinting at myriad things indistinguishable to the contemporary [Western] eye.

Drawn from the John C. Weber Collection, “Seduction” includes paintings by the Edo period’s most talented floating-world artists; a 58-foot long handscroll “A Visit to the Yoshiwara” by Hishikawa Moronobu; fabrics, kimonos, and luxury objects from Edo period, and plenty of commentary to help decipher the multi-layered imagery.
The Printer’s Eye presents eighty-eight rarely seen Japanese woodblock prints, part of a collection assembled by Edwin Grabhorn (1889–1968) and donated to the museum by the family of his widow, Irma Grabhorn, in 2005. Termed ukiyo-e (oo-kee-yo-eh), or “pictures of the floating world,” these prints were made to celebrate and promote the urban pastimes and styles popular in Edo period.
Both shows are on display through May 10 at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco. More information at: 415-581-3500 or

Friday, February 13, 2015

Carnevale a Desco: A Taste of Venezia in Oakland, California

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

These days, I daydream of the Carnival that’s happening in Venice, Italy, right now. It’s happening despite the usual this time of year inclement weather – damp winds and pouring rain... Meanwhile, in sunny Oakland, California, a little taste of Venetian festivities is being served at Desco restaurant on the corner of Washington and 9th. "Carnevale a Desco" is a prix fixe dinner menu showcasing traditional Italian dishes associated with carnivals in various regions of Italy, and not just Venice.   
The special February menu at Desco includes traditional Venetian antipasto, derived from Carnevale di Venezia, primo course of Piedmontese stuffed pasta from Carnevale d’Ivrea, and dolce from Lombardian Carnevale Ambrosiano.

The traditional Venetian cicchetti (small bites) are served on a cutting board in progression of suggested tastes – salted cod mantecato in a tiny bowl with a wooden spoon; marinated in vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil white anchovies on a bed of radicchio puree; crunchy black riso Venere fritters with onions and zucchini; and flavorful chicken liver pate with wine-soaked wine onions that requires four hours of preparation.

According to Venetian tradition, the cicchetti are at their best when paired with nice and dry Prosecco, like Alice Doro from Valdobiaddene.

Agnolotti del Plin – tender little squares stuffed with veal, pork, a little rabbit meat, and some veggies, are served with veal demi-glace, sage pesto and blood orange zest powder – a playful reminder of d’Ivrea carnival tradition of orange [throwing] wars.

This aromatic dish is best served with Piedmonte nebbiolo, redolent of dark cherry and black currant.

Duo of traditional Lombardia dolcetti consists of a pastry “sandwich” of organic apple slices and pine nuts fried in dough with lemon mascarpone in-between them, and baked chiacchiere on a side. Known under different names in all regions of Italy, and enjoyed everywhere at carnival time, these crispy dough squares are enhanced with lemon and orange zest, cinnamon and vanilla.

Admittedly, Chef Simone Ferrara, who hails from Torino, Piedmonte, prepares most of these delectable dishes without looking into a recipe book, but carefully replicating family recipes.   

Next month, Chef Ferrara plans to introduce vegetarian dinners with locally harvested seasonal vegetables – mostly organic artichokes, white asparagus, and various lettuces. Following the current Carnevale stint, an attractively priced prix fixe menu will change every month.
On the regular menu, there are always fresh, ingredient-driven regional Italian specialties and traditional Neapolitan pizze prepared in a wood-fired oven. The wine list at Desco consists entirely of Italian varietals, with many wines available by the glass. The full bar offers classic cocktails, amaro, aperitivi and digestivi. There is an afternoon happy hour with Italian bar snacks.
Desco’s sister restaurant Donato Enoteca in Redwood City is led by Executive Chef and proprietor Donato Scotti, a native of Bergamo, Italy, who implements the best traditions of Lombardian cuisine using fresh California produce alongside imported Italian wines, meats, and chesses.
“Carnevale a Desco” prix fixe menu is served through February 17 (except for Valentine's Day), and is offered in addition to the regular a la carte menu at a price of $36.00. The restaurant also provides guests with a $10.00 voucher for a daytime gondola ride ( on Lake Merritt (not valid on Valentine's weekend).

Desco occupies a cozy corner of an historic structure built in 1876 located at 499 9th Street, on the corner of Washington Street in Oakland, California. The restaurant is open daily, Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., on Friday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday 3:00 to 10:30 p.m. and on Sunday 3:00 to 9:00 p.m. Call for reservations (510) 663-9000 or visit

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Woo and Awe your Date with Enoteca Signorello in Napa Valley

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

Valentine’s Day on a Saturday? Prepare for the flashflood of wine and roses – and romantic weekend getaways! As our new fast friend Alison put it, “Imagine how many marriage proposals will be made this year on February 14…”

Indeed, there probably will be many. My dear husband [of so many years] and I arrived at Signorello Estate – one of the most romantic places in Napa Valley – where we’ve met two more couples from our private group gathered for a signature food and wine pairing event, Signorello Enoteca Tasting.

We drove from Downtown Napa along Silverado Trail to the gorgeous estate; introduced ourselves via intercom, and watched the tall gates slowly open to a steep alley lined by blossoming trees, leading to our destination.

Nathalie Birebent, Estate Ambassador and Sal Rivera, Concierge, greeted us with champagne flutes and sparkling smiles. Natalie, the wife of Pierre Birebent, Signorello Winemaker & Vineyard Manager, introduced us to Alison & Pete, and Donna & Kelly who were lounging by the blue pool overlooking Napa Valley.

After a short introduction of the property and its wines produced from estate-grown grapes, we were offered the first one on our list of tastings – 2012 Seta (64% Semillon, 36% Sauvignon Blanc).

Natalie explained the name Seta (“silk” in Italian) – the aromas of melon, mango, and citrus; the mouthfeel of nectarine, cantaloupe, and passion fruit; great minerality; long lingering finish, and a well-balanced acidity. The exquisite silkiness of the wine found its true pairing in an amuse bouche of toast topped with goat cheese, fig jam, and sea salt sprinkles.  

The fruit for Seta comes from low-yielding vines of a dry-farmed vineyard in the Oak Knoll district near Napa River, and total production of this precious white is limited to slightly more than 600 cases.

After our first taste of Signorello goodness, Natalie took us on a tour of the sprawling vineyards around the villa, where she demonstrated the correct vine pruning method, and spoke about the long-standing tradition of grafting tender French varietals to sturdy American roots.

Then we were directed toward Signorello’s new private Enoteca room, and treated to a sit-down four-course food and wine pairing that included seasonal dishes created by the Estate’s Executive Chef Britny Sundin.

More wonderful revelations about highly sophisticated wines matched with gourmet food were coming our way.

2012 Hope’s Cuvee Chardonnay – made of hand-harvested grapes, collected at night in small picking trays to protect the refined and delicate flavor of the fruit – was paired with fresh burrata and baked beet salad with herb dressing, bacon, and Meyer lemon vinaigrette.

2011 Uvaggio – a rich blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc with red cherry and dark chocolate on the nose, round tannins, and bright acidity – was perfect for a juicy rack of lamb over broiled polenta with sautéed broccoli and Romesco sauce.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon – dark garnet in color, with dark cherry and cedar box aroma, tastes of raspberry, currant, and licorice, and smooth finish – became a great compliment to grilled New York strip steak with wild mushroom ragout, roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, and Chiriboga blue cheese.

Finally, 2012 Padrone – a 91% Cabernet Sauvignon 9% Cabernet Franc blend with aromas of blackberries, blueberries, forest floor and charcoal, and sweet tannins – was a great match for a cheese/dessert plate that contained Manchego and Beemster cheeses, tart cherry and cabernet compote, and dark chocolate fudge brownie to round up the enticing meal.  

Besides the above-mentioned Enoteca Pairing, called “one of Napa’s best dining experiences”, Signorello Estate offers Piattini Pairing that includes tasting of Padrone and four other Signorello wines, each paired with small food plates (“piattini” in Italian) featuring Snake River Farms American Kobe Wagyu beef and other culinary delights, and Antipasti Pairing that includes a tasting of five estate wines paired with a selection of artisanal cheeses, cured meat and nuts.  

The new off-season pairing schedule, running through April and picking up again on October 1 through December is as follows:
Antipasti Pairing:     Daily @ 10am, 1pm & 4pm plus Tues-Weds @ 11:30am & 2:30pm
Piattini Pairing:       Thurs-Monday, 11:30am & 2:30pm
Enoteca Pairing:      Thurs-Monday, noon

The new high-season pairing schedule, beginning in May and running through September:
Antipasti Pairing:     Same as off season hours
Piattini Pairing:        Thurs-Monday, 11:30am, 1pm & 2:30pm
Enoteca Pairing:       Thurs-Monday, noon

All tastings are by appointment only and can be made via telephone or online at the Signorello Estate website. Signorello Estate is located in the southern part of Napa Valley on Silverado Trail where the Signorello family has cultivated vineyards since 1977. For more information about Signorello Estate, the Pairings program or to make an appointment the winery can be contacted at 707-255-5990 or